The Macronutrient Diet: How it Works and How to Get Started
For years, dieters were told there’s a simple equation for weight loss: Consume fewer calories than are burned through movement and exercise. For many, the results were inconsistent. The macronutrient diet offers a solution to those uneven outcomes.
“While it is true that to successfully lose weight you have to create a negative energy balance, it’s important to realize that not all calories are created equal,” Tiffany Lowe-Payne, DO, an osteopathic physician and obesity medicine expert says.
At its core, the diet encourages higher quality eating. If offered a choice between a Snickers bar and a bell pepper dipped in guacamole, we intuitively know which is the smarter choice—even though both snacks clock in at 140 calories. To Dr. Lowe-Payne’s point, the Snickers bar offers almost no health benefits, while the dipped bell pepper is packed with healthful nutrients to nourish and fuel the body.
This is the very basis of the macronutrient diet, an eating method that offers a safe, flexible, and effective way to create a healthy lifestyle through smart food choices.
A calorie measures the amount of energy a particular food or beverage contains while macronutrient measurements integrate other key considerations, such as how hungry or full you will feel, the impact on your metabolic rate and brain activity, as well as hormonal response.
When adopting the macronutrient diet, Dr. Lowe-Payne says that you are taking into account the nutritional makeup of those calories to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs. This method tallies a food’s macronutrients—the grams of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats present in each item. Some people will feel better on a high-protein diet while others are better suited to more carbs, the doctor notes.
The ideal macro ratio depends on whether your personal goals are to lose weight, build muscle, endurance train, or simply maintain a healthy weight, as well as how your body responds to particular foods. To be successful, the diet requires tracking foods consumed throughout the day using a calculator that matches your macro ratio to your goals.
If counting macros sounds new to you, Dr. Lowe-Payne says the method is “a principle that has been incorporated into many commercial eating plans to some degree.” WeightWatchers, for example, tracks your food intake and assigns points to each item based on its nutritional makeup, assigning fewer points to foods with healthier profiles. And, like the Whole30 diet, the macronutrient diet gives greater value to whole vegetables, fruits, and unprocessed foods.
How Do I Start?
On its surface, with all its percentages and tallying, the macro diet can feel intimidating. But Joanne Donoghue, PhD, an expert on exercise physiology and nutrition at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, explains that modern technology makes this method very manageable.
Online calculators, many of them free, can help estimate your targeted caloric intake and percentage breakdown of daily macros—and apps and online food tracking systems like MyFitnessPal can tabulate your day’s meals ensuring you stay on track with your plan.
Dr. Donoghue encourages patients to first know their starting point. “Record your regular diet for a few days,” she says. “From there, make adjustments to caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown.”
Dr. Lowe-Payne also recommends that those interested in this method first consult with a professional who can help implement the plan safely. “There is no one size fits all in medicine,” she explains. “While counting macros can be very effective, one has to consider any medical conditions, medications, and other demands on their body.”
For many, counting macros is a tried and true method for achieving a healthy, flexible, and well-rounded diet. But how can you support your health even further once you’ve made this change? Both doctors agree: Exercise.
Dr. Lowe-Payne takes a whole-person approach, recommending patients incorporate movement as well as stress management strategies and plenty of restful sleep. To this, Dr. Donoghue adds, “I also recommend not to remove what you enjoy eating entirely, but consider reducing portion sizes or changing ingredients slightly. I never recommend anyone eating anything they do not like just because a diet suggests it. Food should be enjoyed.”